An installment in the series
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
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By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
You shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground, produced by the land that HaShem your L-rd is giving you. You must place it in a basket and go to site place that HaShem will choose as the place associated with His name. There you shall go to the Kohen-priest officiating at the time, and say to him: ‘Today I am telling HaShem your L-rd that I have come to the land which HaShem swore to our fathers to give us.’
When referencing a Thesaurus it is imperative for the writer or speaker to discern the precise shade of meaning that he wishes to convey and to have a nuanced understanding of the differences between near synonymous words. Loping, jogging, sprinting, fleeing, chasing, scurrying, dashing, trotting and galloping are all forms of running. Yet each verb retains a distinct and specific meaning and using the appropriate word paints a more accurate word picture.
In Lashon Kodesh there are many verbs for speech; amirah, dibur, sipur, hagadah and kriah to name a few. Each of these has a specific meaning and these words cannot be used interchangeably. Commenting on one of the preamble pesukim-verses to the Aseres HaDibros-the Decalogue; “This is what you must say (somahr) to the house of Jacob, and tell (v’sahgayd) the children of Israel” (Shemos 19:3) Rashi famously delineates the different meanings of the terms; amirah and hagadah: “to the house of Jacob: These are the women. Say it to them in a gentle language. — [from Mechilta] and tell the children of Israel: The punishments and the details [of the laws] tell the males, things that are as harsh / tough as tendons.” -[Mechilta, Tractate Shabbos 87A] (Rashi Ibid). So, in Lashon Kodesh, when the style and/or the content of the spoken message are harsh the correct verb to use is a conjugation of Hagadah.
With this in mind it seems odd that the Mikrah Bikurim declaration accompanying the bringing of the first fruits is described as a “telling”; “Today I am telling HaShem your L-rd that I have come to the land which HaShem swore etc.” Superficially there does not seem to be anything particularly tough or acerbic about either the style or substance of this declaration. The Mikrah Bikurim declaration is, by turns, grateful, joyous, melancholy (when speaking of the crucible of the Egyptian exile), reverent and exultant. But nowhere in Mikrah Bikurim do we find anything overtly harsh.
The Izhbitzer maintains that this “telling” is indeed harsh and he reveals the hidden subtextual tough talk of Mikrah Bikurim .
By Torah design the Kohanim and Levi’im were not part of the homesteading act in ancient agrarian Israel. The Torah constructed a society in which eleven of the tribes would till the soil, ranch or sail the seas to earn a living while one tribe, the tribe of Levi (including the Kohanim) would be totally dedicated 7/24/365 to Torah study, Mitzvah performance and Avodas HaShem. With no significant land of their own to farm this tribe could not possibly be self-sufficient. So a system of societal largess through Matnos Kehuna and leviya is mandated by the Torah to sustain the Levi’im and Kohanim. This system unburdened them of the earthy, materialistic concerns of cultivating the soil and enabled them to dedicate themselves completely to the rarefied activities of advanced Torah study, additional Mitzvahs and sacrificial service in the Mishkan and Bais HaMikdash sanctuaries. This kind of tribal apartheid led to them feeling a sense of spiritual superiority over the balance of the Jewish People. For the Kohanim and Levi’im Torah was everything.
But when the lowly Jewish farmer from one of the other tribes brought his first fruits to the Bais HaMikdash, gifted them to the Kohen and declared Mikrah Bikurim he was telling a tale that the Kohen did not want to hear. Back bent from too many rough rows to hoe, fingernails cracked from plow and sickle repair, hands callused from demanding physical labor, perhaps even vaguely redolent of the dung he spread to fertilize his fields, the farmers persona and lifestyle implicitly passes judgment on the kohens. He is “telling” the Kohen (off) “Even though you toil in the Bais HaMikdash while I toil in the fields with every furrow that I plow, with every weed that I pull and with every branch that I prune I perform the Mitzvahs bound to the Land, and actualize the Torah that you study. In hindsight, now that I’ve brought my Bikurim, it has become so clarified that everything that I did to bring forth these fruits from the Holy Land and every earthy, muddy even dung-covered place that I interacted with were suffused with the holiness of the Bais HaMikdash. For me everything is Torah!”
When the Kohen who practices the lifestyle of “Torah is everything” is forced to hear that, in fact, “Everything is Torah” that’s tough, really tough for him to hear.
Adapted from Mei HaShiloach 6:17 (D”H higad’tee)